Saturday, October 30, 2010

Buckskin Joe

For Halloween, I want to show you a wonder of a place! Back in July, Cat and Sam spent two weeks with my parents, so Gil and I were able to go off alone anywhere we wanted, within two days' drive. My very first choice was the cemetery in the remains of Buckskin Joe, a mining camp near Alma, in Park County. At least two legends have haunted this cemetery.

There was a dance hall girl in Buckskin Joe, called Silverheels for the silver decorations on her dancing shoes. A smallpox epidemic hit the camp in the winter of 1861, and Silverheels was the only woman who stayed to care for the sick miners and families. She contracted smallpox herself, and the town took up a collection in gratitude of her dedication, nearly $5000. The next spring, when the miners delivered the reward, her cabin was deserted. She did not leave town by horse or stagecoach, so the nearby mountains and valleys were searched. Silverheels had disappeared into the hills, her beautiful and kind face scarred by the pox. A ghostly lady dressed in black with a heavy veil is sometimes seen placing flowers on graves around the cemetery, still tending the bedsides of the people of Buckskin Joe. Mount Silverheels is named for her.

J. Dawson Hidgepath was another spirit led by love. In hopes of finding a wife, he attempted to romance nearly every one of the few women in town, young or old, eligible or already married. In 1865, poor J. Dawson's body was found at the bottom of Mount Bross, where he had fallen while collecting wildflowers on the mountainside. He was buried in the Buckskin Joe cemetery, but his restless heart still yearned for love. A short time later, a dance hall girl in Alma found his bones stacked in her bed with his hat (with a distinctive crest) on top. He was reburied in the same cemetery, but again and again, his bones made their way into the bed or kitchen of a woman. Deeper graves with even heavier rocks on top could not contain his lovelorn skeleton. For fifteen years his bones roamed the county, whispering in ladies' ears and leaving love poems and bouquets of wildflowers at their door. Tales of J. Dawson's roamings grew taller and wider, until finally his bones were thrown down an outhouse in Leadville and he was never seen again. What a creepy story! :o

So, shall we go?

County Road 8, from Alma

There are few buildings left in this ghost town, some mines, stone ruins and rubble. There's lots more about the history of the camp here~ Legends of America!

Gold was found in the creek and collected in sluice boxes. Mined ore was crushed in burro-powered stone arrastras, water from the creek was washed through to separate rock from gold.

The cemetery is most of what remains of Buckskin Joe. Pale tombstones rise like mushrooms from the forest floor.

Columbines grow in the sunlit patchwork of an aspen grove. This place feels peaceful and warm. It's as inviting as a good new book, as thrilling as the creeeeak of an old iron gate.

A rough way to go! Marble stones tell many stories, some in languages of other homelands. Names and dates conjure up faces.

Some markers are more humble but have lasted just as long.

I cried when I saw these two tiny cradles. I sang a lullaby for them and felt another mother's love in the warm sunlight.

Who was this man? Did he read Tennyson? Did a grieving wife wish for his spirit to come back to her?

A shadow flits before me,
Not thou, but like to thee:
Ah, Christ! that it were possible
For one short hour to see
The souls we loved, that they might tell us
What and where they be!

J. Dawson Hidgepath? :o

An existential reminder~
As ye are now, I once was
As I am now, ye soon shall be.

A feather was bound in this cross.

While history sleeps in overgrown beds, the all-seeing eyes of aspens watch the years go by.

Of course, it is all covered with snow by now. I wish I could have seen the white marble against autumn-yellow leaves! The songbirds of summer have gone, now crows and ravens darkly call from the trees, on branches white like bleached bones. How elegant the black iron fences must look in fresh snow! Timeless and quiet places like this make my imagination go wild! Their stories are whispered in the rushing of a creek or the rustle of leaves. Sometimes you have to listen carefully to hear them or look closely to find them, poke around and read up, but when you do, you'll want to learn even more. I've made a place on Flickr for pictures I've taken of abandoned places, ghost towns and cemeteries. I can't wait to find more and hope that they are interesting and inspiring to you, too!

(enter here!)

Wishing you happy hauntings and a happy Halloween~


Soumyendu said...

That was an exquisitely beautiful story, and a lovely post!


Heather said...

Oh Kristina! thank you for this tour! you know this is right up my alley. I would love to see that place, and it just makes my heart ache to think of those people, long gone...and wonder what ever became of Silverheels....
I'm going to go check out your flickr! too fun! Hope you had a happy halloween!~

commoncents said...

Very cool! I'm glad I found your blog!!

Common Cents

Barb said...

Hi Kristina, I have never heard of this cemetery, though I don't live far from Alma. Reading the old markers helps weave a story of hard times and young deaths. I don't think J. Dawson will be stopped by the final method tried - surely he's just biding his time. BOO!

commoncents said...

EXCELLENT POST! Glad I found your blog!!

Common Cents:

Elena said...

Such a wonderful post and picture tour! And the stories were marvelous, yet so sad.

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Ruth said...

hi Kristina,
The photos were so lovely and the tour that you made in this cemetery is a nice place. Remembering our loved one's is a tradition that we should follow. and since it is fast approaching I bet we should visit now where they is free for adult

Rommel Fernandes said...

Amazing and sobering pics.
Cheap holidays Goa

hapi said...

Hi Kristina Layton, Nice blog! How to add the Glitter Effect Mouse Pointer to your Blog

CatCat said...

"As ye are now, I once was
As I am now, ye soon shall be."

So true. These memories of ghosts are not totally horrifying. They just reminds us that there is another world wherein someday we will gonna dwell to, like them.

Thanks for sharing,

Julia Guthrie said...

Magic...the tales come alive with your words & pictures Kristina x

the wild magnolia said...

This a splendid visit, outstanding photos, and information.

the wild magnolia said...

What has happened to you? Hope you are ok.

DGZiv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DGZiv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DGZiv said...

Perhaps, there is a chance, Buckskin Joe’s last name was actually spelled Higginbotham per ‘The Heritage of Montgomery County, AL’ with respect to ‘Montgomery Mining District’; the name appears also in The Heritage of Tuscaloosa, AL and the Heritage of Pike County, AL.

And ‘Alma’ is a fairly ubiquitous name, at least in Alabama, from that time period and was frequently used and not necessarily connected to Buckskin even if the spelling is correctly amended to Higginbotham

David Garrison Ziff

DGZiv said...

An alternate version of the name Lourette is appearing with respect to Higginbotham family as well; from The Heritage of Wilcox County, Alabama, on page 189 Mary ‘LORETTE’ appears and this name is not ubiquitous in other Heritage books on Alabama!

Point being, the towns of Alma, Lourette/Louret were named using, at the very least, southern names and likely connected to Alabama; I’m finding connections to many of the county heritage books I have access to and a lot of connections to Wilcox County, Montgomery County and Tuscaloosa County.

And, there is a reference to Higgenbothan in The Heritage of Wilcox County, AL and possibly a misspelling Higgenbotham.

Feel free to contact me at

DGZiv said...

Lourette (Louret), may may been named after a ‘Lorette’ and then later named after Joseph (BUCKSKIN) Higginbottom (HIGGINBOTHAM) and Alma may or not have been a family name too!

DGZiv said...

Laurette:) True to form!

DGZiv said...

There is more on p.71 regarding the Higginbotham Family Cemetery and the names Alma and Ruth appear… I tried to call the number and it is sadly no longer in service. See The Heritage of Wilcox County, Alabama.